The approach Phil Booth Sr.took in teaching his son the game of basketball could best be described as a trial-by-fire method.
Booth would drive his elementary school-aged son to various Baltimore County basketball courts, and then let Phil Jr. fend for himself.
"He was playing against a lot of older guys," Booth said. "[I'd] drop him off at the playground and let him go play. Let him take his lumps. That's the way I came up. Go let him play pickup. That's how you gain your instincts. That's really how I wanted it."
Booth Sr., a former Coppin State star, created his son's basketball blueprint based on his own experience growing up in Philadelphia. That was well before the days of AAU – before the days of 12-year-olds playing 40 games a summer.
"I coached him early," Booth Sr. said. "He actually didn't play a lot of AAU. I'm not a big fan of it for the younger age. We kind of did more working on skill, playing pickup. He didn't do a lot of [AAU] growing up. I kind of learned that from my upbringing – playing pickup and working on your game."
Looking back on the basketball education of Booth Jr., it's hard to argue with his father's somewhat unconventional approach. Now a 6-foot-3, 180-pound rising junior at Mount St. Joseph, Booth Jr. is considered one of the most coveted guard prospects in the 2014 class. Now in his second year with the D.C.-based Team Takeover, Booth couldn't be more appreciative of how he was taught the game.
"[At first] it was [my father pushing basketball] mostly, then I kind of fell in love with it myself," Booth said. "It was quick, [at] a young age, that I really loved basketball. It really wasn't a problem being like him. When I was younger, growing up, he was working me out. It's just been fun."
From those pre-teen playground pickup days to his time with the Gaels, Booth seems to have always been destined for basketball stardom.
The paths of Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey and Phil Booth Sr. crossed 20-some years ago, when Clatchey was an assistant at UMBC and Booth was starring for Coppin. One game after the Eagles upset Maryland at Cole Field House on Dec. 12, 1989, Clatchey's Retrievers stunned Booth's Coppin squad.
"That was, of course, the worst experience ever – beat Maryland at Maryland, lose at UMBC," Booth Sr. recalled with a laugh. "He still brings up everything he won at."
Booth Sr. started sending his son to Clatchey's camps at a young age. When it came time for the Booths – who now live in Howard County – to choose a high school, several of Baltimore and Washington's most notable private-school programs recruited the young guard. Clatchey's Gaels, however, won out for a variety of reasons.
"It's been great," Booth Sr. said. "With Coach Clatchey, academics are first. He's a tough-nosed coach. They run a great system. The kids are held accountable. I know the era has changed, but he's still old school and wants to be a part of that.
"[For] as many accolades in the Catholic League that he's had, one of the things that shows you how much the kids appreciate it is how much they come back and play pickup. Eric Atkins (Notre Dame), Will Thomas (George Mason), Chase Adams (Pittsburgh), Henry Sims (Georgetown), Dino Gregory (Maryland). That kind of gets me going. Seeing the old-school guys come and play pickup, that probably says the right things when they come back to the high school environment to work out. Playing pickup is a testament to Coach Clatchey."
Having watched him Booth Jr. for years in camp, Clatchey knew that he was getting a polished young prospect that had excellent basketball IQ – especially for a player his age. Skill development was an obvious point of emphasis for Booth, who immediately joined the Gaels' varsity squad as a freshman.
"There were some growing pains [playing] against guys two, three, four years older," Clatchey said. "I certainly think he handled himself extremely well for a freshman. He got better as the year went on. He just assumed much more of a role this year for us, in terms of what we need of him bringing to the table each day on both sides of the ball."
As a sophomore, Booth was a second-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro performer, helping Mount St. Joseph to the Baltimore Catholic League tournament championship. He and Kameron Williams formed one of the best backcourts on the East Coast.
"That's great," said Booth, who averaged 15 points last season. "I have great players around. Kam's a good scorer. Clatchey's used to being a champion. Great coach. He knows how to win. I think it's the perfect situation where I'm at."
With Booth's relative lack of AAU experience, he didn't necessarily expect scholarships to start flowing in until his junior year. But thanks to his standout sophomore season at Mount St. Joseph, combined with impressive performances with Team Takeover in the spring and summer, Booth has already earned 10 scholarship offers.
For Booth, every offer – no matter what school it comes from – is important.
"I list them off the top of my head. Getting an offer is a big deal. I know every one," he said. "St. Joseph's, Seton Hall, Maryland, South Florida, Indiana, Georgetown, Rutgers, Villanova."
In the weeks after Booth's interview with The Sun, Southern Methodist and Xavier entered the mix with offers of their own. He has taken trips to Maryland and Villanova, and hopes to check out Indiana – where former Team Takeover coach Kenny Johnson is now an assistant – come fall. Booth Sr. said his son is looking for a program with an excellent graduation rate, good tradition, a diverse campus and a "great social setting." But there will be no rush in choosing a school.
"[It's] all neck and neck, feeling everyone out," Booth Jr. said. "I haven't really gotten deep into it. [I'm] going along for the ride. I'll know when the time is right."
When the time is right, one fortunate program will get a player that Clatchey says can do it all. Booth can "shoot the ball with range … make good decisions, find the open man, match up with a couple different types of players defensively … and he has really good body control," his coach said. For those reasons and more, Booth, a consensus four-star prospect, will most likely continue to add offers in the months to come.
Clatchey has coached numerous high-major players during his 20-plus years at Mount St. Joseph. Booth – thanks in large part to this father's tutelage – could ultimately be among the best.
"He's very poised, very composed. He has great focus on fundamentals and skills," Clatchey said. "I think he has a chance to have a really great next two years. He was very instrumental in us winning the championship this past year. I think he's in line to really have a terrific college career as well."
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